Worth 20% of your final grade
- September 22: Sign up for a interface to analyze in class
- October 1: Sign up for a presentation time slot in class
- October 8: Draft of P2: Interrogate the Interface due in class for Peer Review
- October 13, 15, or 17: Presentation Days. Email me the URL to your Google Slides by midnight on the day before your presentation (no grace period)
- October 17: P2: Interrogate the Interface web essay due
- October 24: P2: Interrogate the Interface deadline (end of grace period, no work accepted after 11:55 PM)
The Project Assignment
An interface, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is a “point of interaction or communication between a computer and any other entity, such as a printer or human operator.” As a “human operator,” you encounter “user interfaces” every day: your cell phone, your laptop computer, the CD player in your car, an ATM machine — all of these devices have interfaces that have been carefully designed to facilitate specific technical functions and guide you, the user, through the range of available tasks within the system.
The word interface has become so common in our vocabulary that we now use it as a verb. Most of us “interface” with so many different systems on such a regular basis that the design and functionality of these interfaces becomes invisible. This assignment asks you to step back and critically examine the interface of a web-based service or mobile app, to document your findings in an analytical web essay, and to present your conclusions to your classmates in a short oral presentation.
Step 1. Choose an application
To help us become familiar with as many applications as possible, each student in the class will analyze a different application. The following applications are pre-approved for this assignment:
- Comic Master
- Gamestar Mechanic
In addition to considering the applications on this list, you can seek out additional applications designed to support writers, photographers, filmmakers, storytellers, public speakers, programmers, etc. As you begin thinking about which application you would like to study, I encourage you to select an application you have never used before but which you would like to explore.
In class on Monday, September 22, you’ll choose the tool you will analyze. The selection is first come, and only one person per tool. If you would like to choose a tool that is not on the list, email me the name of the tool by noon on Sunday, September 21 (to give me a chance to make sure it will work for the project). I urge you to come to class on the 22nd with a first, second, and third choice.
Step 2. Conduct the analysis
Once you have chosen an application, you will begin analyzing its user interface. Exploring the basic functionality of the application is a good place to start, but your analysis should not merely describe what the application does; it should investigate how the application controls or influences your interaction with it and/or other users of the application. Your webtext should include a rhetorical analysis and discussion of design choices in the context of your analysis of the affordances and constraints of the tool.
Consider two broad questions to get started:
- What are the affordances of the application?
In other words, what does the application allow or encourage you do? What does it make easy for you?
- What are the constraints of the application?
In other words, how does the application limit your ability to do things you want to do? What does it make difficult for you? Think about which features of the application are intuitive and which features are “hidden” or only available to advanced users. If the site has a mobile version, visit it in your phone’s web browser or download the official app. What shortcomings do you notice when you use the mobile version? Does the mobile version have any advantages?
Rather than thinking abstractly about these questions, create an account on the site and explore the user interface of your application, taking notes and screenshots as you do so. The answers to these questions will form the basis of your web essay, which is the primary component of this assignment.
Step 3. Draft your web essay
The parameters for this web essay are intentionally broad, which should allow you to focus on the aspects of your application you find most relevant and interesting. Keep these guidelines in mind:
- Remember that your essay should analyze and evaluate the application, not just describe or summarize it. You’re the analyst, not the play-by-play announcer.
- Using first-person voice (“I”) may be appropriate in places, but your essay should not merely express your personal opinion about whether or not you like the application. Rather, it should thoughtfully critique the application’s interface and the company (or group of people) that designed it.
- You will publish your finished essay on your WordPress site. Because it is a webtext, you may break it up over more than one page on your site. Make wise design decisions to help your audience (everyone in the class) understand the application you are interrogating.
- Your essay should be 1200–1600 words (but I will not count the words) and should include screenshots of your application that enhance and reinforce your written text. You may also include video recordings.
Step 4. Present your findings
You will present your findings to the class in a five-minute presentation, which will include a slideshow that focuses relies primarily on visual elements (that is, the use of linguistic elements on the slides should be limited to a title slide, image credits, and only occasional highlights).
Your presentation shouldn’t be just a cheerleading routine (“This application is great! Look what it can do!”) or a smear campaign (“This application is evil! You shouldn’t use it!”). Rather, you should briefly describe what the application does, then discuss how the interface improves the user experience (its affordances) and how it limits the user experience (its constraints). You may also want to include some type of recommendation (which will help your classmates decide whether or not they should use this application) or comparison (which will help us place your application on a continuum of other applications that perform similar functions).